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A Mormon Abroad

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 09, 2011

Mormons have been heading out to see new places, I suppose, ever since Joseph Smith called for the Saints to move from New York to Kirtland, Ohio. We all know how well it went when Mormon habits clashed with the habits of native Missourians, causing us to, um, head out to see still newer places. A lot of us visited unfamiliar places as missionaries, and I’ll bet we all have stories about other missionaries (never ourselves, of course) who were more dismayed than enthralled by differing customs, and who didn’t always express themselves with, er, the greatest felicity.

I find a touch of that provincialism, that “this is silly because it isn’t like we do it at home” attitude in the letters of apostle George A. Smith, who, in 1872-73, traveled to the Holy Land in the company of fellow apostle Lorenzo Snow, and Eliza R. Snow, and others. His description of a Christmas dinner in Nice, France, written to a daughter, doesn’t sink to the level of the Ugly American by any means, but you can still sense his disdain for the way the other half lives.

He and his companions took a carriage ride around Nice, noting the orange groves and olive trees. He wrote to his daughter, “A great many wealthy people come here to spend the winter on account of its romantic situation and its temperate climate. Many beautiful hotels and villas have been built for their accommodation.”

George and his companions stayed at the Grand Hotel, on the fourth floor (as counted in America; or the third floor as measured in France). About 200 people, he said, sat down to dinner in the hotel’s dining room at 6:00 p.m.

The first dish was soup, which Aunt Eliza pronounced good (change of plates); second dish, a nice little meat pie about the size of a common-sized peach (change of plates); third dish, a little fish and a little potato, and a little melted butter dip (change of plates); fourth dish a little baked beef with a little green peas mixed with several other compounds (plates changed); fifth dish, a little chicken, hardly done, with sheep’s heart (change of plates); sixth dish, nameless and uneatable (plates changed); seventh dish, meat jelly and meat hashed (plates changed); eighth dish, a little chicken bitter seasoned, accompanied with lettuce and celery mixed with vinegar and olive oil (plates changed); ninth dish, plum pudding very small and good for Christmas (plates changed); tenth dish, ice cream and a small cake (plates changed); eleventh dish, a small cake and roasted horse-chestnuts (plates changed); twelfth dish, oranges, pears and several kinds of nuts.

Except for the sheep’s heart and that inedible sixth course (and everybody is entitled not to enjoy everything, even in the South of France!), it sounds like George and his party were served an elegant and varied dinner. They wouldn’t have had oranges and pears at home, at Christmastime, I don’t think, and while the dinner seems a little heavy with meats, there are also vegetables and salad and fruit and sweets, and, really, quite a nice variety of dishes.

Sounds like a wonderful dinner to me, served in what sounds like a wonderful setting. George’s evaluation, though:

It took one hour and a half for this performance, for we had to wait longer between the different courses than it took us to eat the portions served up to us.

Probably about one hundred bottles of table wine were drunk during the meal. The drinking water is placed on the table in bottles. It is clear, but warm and insipid.

I forgot to state that to each person was appropriated a small crusty loaf of bread, not so large as my fist; the seasoning of the food is generally unpalatable to me, which caused me to try the sour wine, which also was not pleasant to the taste.

This is Christmas abroad – I hope you had a better one at home, although ours was amusing to us, seated as we were in the midst of the ‘tip-top’ fashionables.

Memo to self: If George A. Smith ever comes to dinner at my house, skip the sauces and the pâté and anything en croûte. Fry up a slab of beef, be sure there are plenty of mashed potatoes, and bring home a bakery cake with lots of frosting.

They say youth is wasted on the young. Travel experiences and French cooking are sometimes wasted on those lucky enough to travel. *sigh*



8 Comments »

  1. I guess not everyone can enjoy the wonderful experience of eating abroad.

    It’s funny to see apostles having culture shock (and drinking the sour wine, too). :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — June 9, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

  2. Culture shock! You know that frustration when you’re reaching for a word you know very well but that just won’t come to you? Okay, now I can go to sleep. Culture shock …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 10, 2011 @ 12:29 am

  3. A bakery cake with lots of frosting? You surely mean a Costco cake, that pinnacle of American culinary craft.

    Comment by Researcher — June 10, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  4. Hilarious! I have my own Thanksgiving dinner story while a missionary in Taiwan, but from what I read here, what does he have to complain about, nothing! And what is sour wine and why would he be drinking that anyway, help me out, weren’t we not supposed to be drinking wine by then?

    Comment by Cliff — June 10, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  5. Researcher, I’m trying to be so lowbrow here that the bakery I had in mind is at my local Smith’s store, where the frosting is 98.7% pure Crisco. Now *there’s* some fine pastry for you!

    Cliff, I’ll bet you do have your tales — we should swap ‘em sometime, and I’ll throw in some of mine from the very area where GAS — all 250 lbs of him — is complaining about having to wait between courses. The Word of Wisdom was still “a word” then, rather than a commandment, and somewhat optional. Brigham Young, for instance, pleaded with the missionaries to give up their tobacco at least for the time they were missionaries. He himself fought a tobacco habit (chewing tobacco, chewed to ease the pain of his atrociously bad teeth).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 10, 2011 @ 10:14 am

  6. ” If George A. Smith ever comes to dinner at my house…”

    — and chill the drinking water.

    I’m surprised he did not complain of his being carbonated or flavored by the mineral springs from which it no doubt came.

    That said, I’ve traveled plenty, and I do look for a familiar item on the menu after about the second day of travel — all the “new food” gets tiring to me.

    (And Thanksgiving in Taiwan? I can only imagine. Some of the best food I’ve eaten was in Taiwan (of all stripes — local, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American, etc), but some of the local favorites are not my favorites for sure.)

    Comment by Paul — June 10, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  7. Quelle domage!

    I used to work for a guy who was extremely risk-averse when it came to food. On visits to Japan, he would insist on finding the nearest McDonalds…

    Comment by lindberg — June 10, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  8. I’ll try to keep it nice. George A. Smith is not my favorite person in Mormon history.

    Comment by Mina — June 13, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

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